The 2019 Swope Park Rangers season has been one that most around the club would probably like to forget. After 17 games they sit in 17th place (of 18 teams) in the Eastern Conference. They have only 12 points through all those games for an abysmal 0.71 points per game.
Despite the rough season there is still reason to watch. SPR have fully embraced the “play your kids” mantra. The average age of the roster is just 20 years and two weeks old. The oldest player is 24-year-old Ethan Vanacore-Decker. While EVD is unlikely to earn a first team contract, there are other players who are much closer to making the move.
Currently Sporting KC have 27 players under first team contracts and just three open roster spots. With the rumors of Portuguese left back Luis Martins coming out yesterday, and Peter Vermes mentioning the team is in discussion with as many as 30 players, it’s very unlikely a lot of SPR players would make the move. Especially with so many SKC players already under contract for 2020.
Even still, let’s break down the players who are most likely to earn the call-up.
#1 Felipe Hernandez (Box-to-Box Midfielder)
If there is one player who has unquestionably earned a chance to move to Sporting Kansas City it’s midfielder Felipe Hernandez. He has been with the Rangers longer than any player on the roster. He and Will Little joined on January 6, 2017 and before that he was on an academy contract.
He’s grown each year and is currently experiencing a breakout season. He leads the team with seven goals (a career high) and he’s also added two assists. Beyond that, he’s a bulldog in the midfield working harder than anyone around him. He reminds me of a young Roger Espinoza but with more finishing ability. If Sporting KC can use one thing, it’s more players like Espinoza in the midfield.
On top of that, he’s still just 21-years-old and as a former member of the SKC Academy he could be signed to a Homegrown contract. While he’s unlikely to get significant MLS minutes and he’d likely still spend time on loan with the Rangers, SKC could need some midfielders with Benny Feilhaber, Kelyn Rowe and Gedion Zelalem all potentially gone after the 2019 season.
#2 - John Pulskamp (Goalkeeper)
The 18-year-old former United States youth international has been the best keeper on SPR this season, including Sporting KC loanees Adrian Zendejas and Eric Dick. He only has four starts but he has the best goals against average of any of the four SPR keepers.
With Pulskamp only being 18 and Dick already 24, it’s possible he could usurp that third GK roster spot. Dick has appeared to make no progress in his ability to play the ball with his feet and his decision making. Dick is an excellent shot stopper, but Pulskamp has made some terrific stops in limited minutes. Goalkeepers develop slower than field players so keeping Pulskamp at SPR could be a solid move but I wouldn’t be stunned to see SKC move on from Dick.
#3 - Alexsander (Left Back)
Jhonatta de Oliveira Andrade or “Alexsander” has been a revelation for SPR at left back. With the unexpected retirement of left back Justin Bilyeu (who I would have picked in preseason as the most likely to take a step forward to MLS), Alex has stepped in and played in 16 of 17 games. He leads the team with five assists and has a goal to his name as well. He provides that dynamic attack from left back that SKC seems to value in that position.
The problem for Alex is two-fold. First, he is on loan from Athletico Paranaense (Brazilian First Division). Because he’s on loan, it’s not even clear if SPR or SKC have the option to buy. Second, he is an international. While he is very deserving, Sporting KC don’t have any available international slots and it’s hard to imagine they would use one on a player who is very likely to be a backup. For those reasons, I’d say this is extremely unlikely to happen.
#4 - Kaveh Rad (Center Back)
Not to be confused with his twin brother Jahon Rad who plays defensive midfielder (a spot SPR are surprisingly deep at), Kaveh has been the best academy signing this season. He leads all academy contracted players in minutes with 636 this season. He’s still very green but he’s earned starts over Camden Riley (SKC’s 2019 second round SuperDraft pick) in the last two games.
As a current member of the SKC Academy he is also eligible for a Homegrown contract. Realistically he could use more time with the Rangers as a consistent player but if the team gets desperate to get a center back he could be an option. He would definitely be the fifth CB on the roster and more of a long-term project.
#5 - Mark Segbers (Right Back)
In our 2019 mid-season awards, I listed Segbers as the most improved player on the team. He had some rough outings at the beginning of the year. He is the only player on the team to have played in all 17 games and he’s come a long way.
The reason I list him here though is not because he’s been mind boggling good. He’s been average to good. However, he is a domestic fullback and that carries value. If SKC want to clear a roster spot to sign someone like Luis Martins (or any other international) the team could release Nicolas Hasler and free up his international roster spot. That’s why Hasler got released from the Chicago Fire earlier in the season. Segbers would be a very short-term fix as Jaylin Lindsey is probable to return soon.
There are other players that are so young they could definitely still develop. It will be interesting to see if the Rangers buck the trend of completely rebuilding the team every year and move towards a model of keeping the same young core together year-over-year. Here is a quick look at other options.
Ayyoub Allach - He is a defensive midfielder and an international. He’s only 21 but he’s behind Wan Kuzain who already has a first team contract and doesn’t require an international roster spot. He’s shown promise when played in his natural spot though SKC have had to him him as a #8 and winger at times.
Sean Karani - He has been dynamic but a little one-footed. He is just 18 and adds a lot of speed. I’d like to see him sign a full SPR contract and get more minutes in 2019 and into 2020.
Jahon Rad - If Allach is buried on the defensive mid depth chart, then J. Rad is really buried. We need to see more of him, much like most of the players on academy contracts.
Camden Riley - I hope he sticks around with SPR so he can continue to develop. He currently makes too many mistakes to move up but he has potential and he can also play defensive midfielder and center back, so he’s versatile.
Brooks Thompson - Another promising keeper who has been out with injury all year. He’s finally healthy and just 17 so I’ll be interested to see if he can get on the field soon, though there are lots of goalkeepers on the roster.
Mo Abualnadi, Josh Chong, Jake Davis, Dylan Hooper & Tucker Lepley - These are the rest of the guys on academy contracts and we simply haven’t seen enough (or in same cases any) of them.
Camilo Benitez - Still just 19 years old, a hip injury has kept him out all year. It’s a real shame as SPR has lacked offense and they could use him. He should return before the season is over.
Wilson Harris - He decided to skip college last fall to sign with SPR. He can’t consistently earn a starting spot and we simply need to see more from him to know what he’s capable of. The entire offense has been lacking so it’s hard to just blame him.